Giridih: What Asha Devi, Gulbi Devi, Shohgi Devi, Kaushalya Devi, Suniyo and Basanti Devi have more in common than just their surnames. The six women are widows, and two among them have not only lost their husbands but sons too.
They hail from a single family, and based in Ranginiya village of Gorhar block, Hazaribagh district.
Sanichar Mahto had five sons — Bada Buddhan, Kanshi, Chota Buddhan, Hira Lal and Teklal Mahto. Asha, Gulbi, Shohgi and Kuashalaya were married to four of the brothers of the Sanichar family.
The brothers were workers who used to install electrical towers and help transmit cables. Despite this being a job with severe occupational hazards, workers of such nature rarely get an opportunity to work near their native place or state.
Among the six deaths, three members of the family died outside Jharkhand and two on foreign shores.
“There is not much opportunity to find work here. So, we couldn’t even force them to stay back or not take up such jobs. We had a dream of a better life, instead we lost our husbands and sons, one after another,” rues Asha.
Kaushalaya and Gulbi are the ones whose tragedies did not stop there, as Kaushalaya’s son Taleshwar and Gulbi’s Prayag also died while working outside and in same work, leaving behind Basanti and Suniyo as other two widows in the family.
The oldest of the men to have died thus was 55 years old, while the younger ones were only 26 and 25 years of age.
Asha was widowed in April 2016, when her husband Teklal died in Saudi Arabia. Just eight days before Teklal’s death, their daughter, Reena Kumari had got married.
While Basanti, now 20, was nursing a three months baby, when her husband Taleshwar had died in Congo in 2014.
Prayag had died in Mumbai, and only two years back he had got married. He had no kids, and his wife Suniyo now lives with her parents.
In 2011-12, the mineral rich Jharkhand state was reported to be having the second highest unemployment rate in India, which tells the story why people migrate outside state to eke-out-a-living.
A report published in the International Journal of Engineering Innovations & Research, volume 5, mentioned that over 1000 electrical workers die each year due to workplace accidents.
There are several laws for workers’ safety in India including the Factory Act. Yet non implementations of the laws are resulting in such deaths on a regular basis and most of them go unreported.There are compensatory acts as well such as the Employees State Insurance Act and the Workmen’s Compensation Act. But to no avail.
The tragedy of this family goes beyond the loss of lives. These women are struggling to live with dignity. Only two of them could manage to get some amount as compensation. One was made possible because the local CPI-ML leaders had stepped in. And the other one got lucky because her husband worked for the Indian Railways who not only give pension but also gave her son a job.
The rest of them are barely able to manage even a single meal a day. “Most of us are not getting widow pension by the government,” complains Shohgi Devi. Fortunately, being physically challenged she has managed to get Rs 300 per month through the disability pension scheme.
“I had no such luck. I neither got any compensation, nor any kind of pension. My parents are supporting me financially. Now my daughter has reached marriageable age. I don’t know what to do,” shares a very worried Asha.
When contacted Barkattha MLA, Janaki Yadav, he told eNewsroom, “We had some knowledge about the deaths in the family, though not in much detail. But, how they are not getting widow pension remains a mystery. These days, the formalities get done in just five days, and recently, five hundred women from Bharkatta block alone have been added to the widow pension list.” He promised to look into all such cases and come up with concrete steps for their wellbeing.
But the question remains, will it be enough?